Plasticity and cross-tolerance to heterogeneous environments: divergent stress responses co-evolved in an African fruit fly
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Plastic adjustments of physiological tolerance to a particular stressor can result in fitness benefits for resistance that might manifest not only in that same environment but also be advantageous when faced with alternative environmental stressors, a phenomenon termed ‘cross-tolerance’. The nature and magnitude of cross-tolerance responses can provide important insights into the underlying genetic architecture, potential constraints on or versatility of an organism’s stress responses. In this study, we tested for cross-tolerance to a suite of abiotic factors that likely contribute to setting insect population dynamics and geographic range limits: heat, cold, desiccation and starvation resistance in adult Ceratitis rosa following acclimation to all these isolated individual conditions prior to stress assays. Traits of stress resistance scored included critical thermal (activity) limits, chill coma recovery time (CCRT), heat knockdown time (HKDT), desiccation and starvation resistance. In agreement with other studies, we found that acclimation to one stress typically increased resistance for that same stress experienced later in life. A more novel outcome, however, is that here we also found substantial evidence for cross-tolerance. For example, we found an improvement in heat tolerance (critical thermal maxima, CTmax) following starvation or desiccation hardening and improved desiccation resistance following cold acclimation, indicating pronounced cross-tolerance to these environmental stressors for the traits examined. We also found that two different traits of the same stress resistance differed in their responsiveness to the same stress conditions (e.g. HKDT was less cross-resistant than CTmax). The results of this study have two major implications that are of broader importance: (i) that these traits likely co-evolved to cope with diverse or simultaneous stressors, and (ii) that a set of common underlying physiological mechanisms might exist between apparently divergent stress responses in this species. This species may prove to be a valuable model for future work on the evolutionary and mechanistic basis of cross-tolerance.